Every saver knows the internal struggle with the “gimmie monster.” By sticking to our chosen saving strategies, most of us can win most of our bouts with him. But sometimes, the monster wins out too often. For some of us, spending is an addiction, and the gimmie monster devours all of our savings. If you are losing the battle with your urges to spend, despite knowing you can’t afford the things you are buying, you may need to try some radical means to avoid temptation.
Self-discipline is not popular these days, and some would say avoiding temptation is a terribly old-fashioned idea. “The modern world offers all these great innovations,” they’d say. “Why deny yourself?” Whether or not it’s old-fashioned, battling temptation certainly is an old idea — Jesus talked about taking radical means to avoid temptation in the Sermon on the Mount. After advising listeners to gouge out eyes and cut off hands if those body parts are causing them to sin, he explained, “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (quoted in Matthew 5).
I’m not aware of anyone literally cutting off body parts to avoid sin, but many Christians understand this passage to mean that extreme measures are sometimes necessary to avoid falling into the same temptations over and over. I have heard of men who avoid walking by the lingerie sections of department stores and refuse to watch exercise videos, which tempt them to lust, and a woman who will not go to restaurants that serve alcohol, which was her former downfall.
Though some may think that these people are overreacting, I admire them for their self-discipline and willingness to do whatever it takes to avoid doing something they will regret. People who want to save money might learn something from them. It’s better to take some extreme measures that look crazy to other people than to find yourself buried in debt.
How might the “cutting off your hand” principle work with spending? The first step is recognizing that your spending problem is out of control. When you know your will isn’t strong enough to say no to the things that are eating holes in your pockets, try to pinpoint the circumstances that make you want to spend the most. Where are you? Who is with you? What types of products or experiences take most of your money? What dust-collecting items on the shelves of your home were “must-buys” on the store’s shelves?
Once you’ve discovered your biggest spending temptations, think about what it will take to avoid them. You may have to stop going to some of your favorite stores or stop shopping with some of your best friends. (If you discover that simply being with those friends makes you want to go out and spend money — to keep up with their standards of living — you may need to stop spending any time at all with them.) You may have to turn off the television or at least avoid stations that frequently advertise luxuries you naturally crave. You may have to stop reading blogs that offer al the latest news (and related products) about your favorite hobby or entertainment obsession.
None of these decisions will be easy, but avoiding temptation altogether is often easier than saying no to it when it’s staring you in the eye. Also, if you choose to eliminate something from your life that took up as much of your time as your money, be sure to fill up that time with something else you enjoy, something free or nearly free. Bad habits are easier to break when you have something else to think about. Once you are habitually avoiding the things that make you want to spend, you may not miss the things you once loved as much as you had thought you would. Even if you do, you may discover that the satisfaction of bringing order to your finances far outweighs the longing for expensive pleasures you have eliminated from your life.
Everyone faces temptation to spend, but not everyone can consistently say no to that temptation. If you’re just a consumer who can’t say no, you might need to take some radical steps to stop your spending. If you are certain you can afford your expensive habits, fine, but if not, think about whether continuing to spend is worth the risk of financial disaster. Then consider whether some of those radical methods of avoiding temptation are not so crazy after all.
Image courtesy of Botanista